19 August, 2016

The colander of expat life

On my computer  this morning I have an email from someone enquiring about serving long term with our mission. One of the questions is "What would be the cost?" I know what the true question is, he's asking about financial cost. But my mind jumps to the larger cost.

You see I'm in mourning. Actually I think most long-term missionaries are in some level of mourning most of the time. The cost people initially think of is all the family and friends we said goodbye to when we first left our home country. But they don't see that it was more than that, we said goodbye to a lot more when we first left. We said goodbye to churches, careers, even cats and cars. We said goodbye to houses and potential relationships, to familiar places and casual acquaintances. We said goodbye to ever being "normal". (Here's a post that includes a longer list of losses I posted earlier this year after my father-in-law passed away.)

But that was just the beginning. When we arrived in our receiving country we said goodbye to fluency, to competency, and to familiarity. We said goodbye to easy worship and fluid daily interactions with our neighbours.

We also said goodbye to a settled life that included lots of time to get to know people, and friends who could conceivably be in our lives for a long time.

We're about to start a new school year. This is more than the majority of my family being at school everyday. This is the start of another cycle of building and maintaining relationships. We've been in flux during the last three months of the summer holidays. People flitting in and out of the city and the country. It's not really been obvious who has gone and who is still here.

But once school starts it becomes more obvious. The familiar faces who aren't here. The new faces who don't know who you're talking about when you mention the familiar faces who were a part of your daily life just three months ago. You pretend that everything is okay, that it is great that we've got new people and not so bad that some are missing. But it does hurt. Sometimes I wonder if, in order to keep going, we don't acknowledge that pain enough.

And there are gaping holes left in your heart from doing this year after year. We've been saying goodbyes now since 2000, nearly 16 years. My heart feels a little ragged.

As one who had a very stable upbringing I find the unexpected losses even harder. It is hard enough that a friend from church told me back in February that they were leaving after several years. I had months to process that, but I'm still sad that she's gone. Every time I ride near her house, or look into the cry room at church where she used to sit with her boys, or see her posts on Facebook. But then there are unexpected losses. Health scares that suddenly force people away or into hospital. Sudden decisions about education that take people back to their passport country. Or even worse, people leaving unexpectedly without any reason given at all.

I've written about this grief before, it's an ongoing theme in our lives. In fact the friend who I mentioned at the beginning of this post about grief has suddenly announced that she won't be here this year. I didn't get to say goodbye.

No, I'm not crying. I'm not devastated or unable to function. But I'm sad. 

I feel like I have a colander of a social life. I want to have more control, but there is no way to do so. I want to cling to who I have, but that isn't fair to them either. I sometimes struggle to have nice feelings about the people who supposedly replace the ones who have left, because they never really do. And I know the struggle to trust someone new with my heart, after all they will probably leave soon too!

I know that the grief of having to move countries is harder than what we are dealing with here. But I also want to acknowledge that the missionaries who stay, and others like locals who relate with the missionary community, grieve too. The grieving goes on and on, as every year someone or multiple people leave temporarily or permanently.

So now I will reply to this man who sent me this email this morning, who wants to bring his family, with three kids under seven, to Japan to serve with our mission. I won't be totally honest with him, though. I can't tell him what it will really cost him to choose to come to Japan.

Here's another post you might be interested in about the cost of missionary life. It is more about the goodbyes at the end of a period of time in your passport country, but it acknowledges more than that: http://velvetashes.com/the-cost-is-real/

No comments: